Every year, the month of January comes with different occasions and events. One of the particular popular happening is the wedding ceremony. According to the Eritrean culture most weddings take place during the month of January for many reasons. One important reason is that it is the time of harvest for rural communities.
Abundant food production is harvested at the end of autumn. Different grains and crops are deposited at every household, so there is surfeit during the month of January. This encourages people to have wedding ceremonies. As most Eritrean people depend on farming and herding, January is the free time they can get to celebrate as the life of a farmer is occupied with hard work throughout the year.
Since many wedding ceremonies take place in January, the month is referred to as “TIRI EBIDI”, meaning the crazy January. A lot of issues can be raised during wedding ceremonies. Dowry is something which cannot be ignored. In Eritrea the history of dowry goes back thousands years.
Dowry is a gift or money given at the marriage of a daughter. It can also be a transfer of wealth from the bride’s family to the groom, ostensibly for the bride. In some parts of the world, they use bride service instead of dowry where the groom should give valuable gifts to the bride. Bride service is a payment or a gift given by the groom or his family to the bride. Dowry is an ancient custom and continues to be expected and demanded as a condition to accept a marriage proposal in some parts of the world like Eritrea.
In Eritrea different ethnic groups exhibit different types of dowry. In some of the ethnic groups, dowry is given by the bride’s family where as in some others, the dowry is given by the groom’s family.
One of the ethnic groups where dowry is given by the bride’s family is the Tigrinya ethnic group. It is known as “GEZMI”. Marriage as a big institution is given serious consideration among the Tigrinya ethnic group for the reason that when the couple are wed, the unity is expected to get strengthened and affect families and clans in a better way. And of course, it needs financial security for its eternity and peaceful life. There is a proverb in Tigrinya which says “ZEAKELET GUALKA N ZIBEI HABA” meaning if you have an adult girl you should give her to a man. Assuring the continuity of life is a very important aspect of any family.
If a girl’s family want to give their daughter’s hand in marriage, then the families of both the bride and bridegroom get together and discuss the future of their daughter and son including the financial arrangements. The father of many daughters is obliged to raise as much money as he can. Before the wedding, the exchange of dowry and bride price is made in the presence of “SHIMAGLETAT” (elderly people). Shimagletat act as witnesses. The amount of dowry given to the groom’s family depends on the financial status of the bride’s family. The wealthier the bride’s father the more the dowry given. For the bride’s family dowry is not only a matter of finance but also a matter of respect and prominence.
Dowry is considered a tradition which undermines the value of a woman. But we can also see it the other way around. A man lives with his family until he gets married. He is dependent on his family. Every income he brings belongs to his family. Taking that into consideration, the father of a girl intends to give him something valuable to start a new life, thinking that his daughter will lead a good life.
In contrast, in the Afar expenses of the wedding are totally covered by the groom. An adult man has the duty to build a family. He must work hard and raise money to get married and start a family. The most important thing about the wedding is the bride price. The bride price includes 56 grams of gold, clothes for the bride and her family, a minimum of 20 goats or a camel. The groom must please the bride’s family to get his beloved one. The most amazing issue during the wedding is the role of the bride’s family. In contrast to the Tigrigna ethnic group; they have nothing to do except enjoy the money provided by the groom’s family. It seems like there is no honey without money. However, it is due to the concern parents have about their daughters but not to anguish their sons. It is true that whoever valued a lot to something will give it a different care for that thing.
As long as people feel comfortable with the norms and customs of their respective societies, there is no doubt dowry and bride service would continue in every culture and tradition.